Library Lion: When Do You Break the Rules?

Albert Einstein – “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to go play better than anyone else” – was a brilliant guy.shutterstock_105825518

But it’s clear he never read the kid’s book “Library Lion.”

Einstein should have.

If you’ve got kids in your present or future, so should you. And if you don’t, borrow a copy and read it.

Rules are great to follow when they work. Not so great when they don’t.

And playing the game? It depends on whose game – the level playing field game, their game or yours.

Henry David Thoreau noted “Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.

And most of the time, unless you’re running your own shop, you’re playing somebody else’s game, and sometimes it’s stacked – and not in a good way.

As the character Tess McGill observed in Working Girl, “You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you’re trying to get there. And if you’re someone like me, you can’t get there without bending the rules.

So what about Library Lion?

The gist of the plot is that a friendly and peaceful lion wanders into a library. Since there is nothing that prohibits a lion in the library,  the head librarian overrules her deputy and lets the lion stay as long as it follows the rules – much to the chagrin of the deputy librarian. The lion becomes a much loved addition the library, letting kids use its back as a back rest and helping out doing chores. One day the librarian falls from a ladder, breaks her leg, can’t move and no one apart from the lion can hear her calls for help. The lion, in a bid to get assistance, roars – getting the deputy’s attention but getting a quick boot out of the library for breaking the no roaring rule. It’s a sad day for all except for the deputy librarian.

Everyone misses the lion’s presence, even eventually the deputy librarian. After many days of search, the deputy finds the forlorn lion, looking in the window, longing to return to the library. There’s a new rule the deputy tells the lion he’s implemented: “No roaring allowed, unless you have a very good reason, like helping a friend who’s been hurt, for example.

The lion returns to the library, much to everyone’s happiness.

The book ends with a rule we should all follow – even Albert Einstein: “Sometimes there was a good reason to break the rules. Even in the library.”

Cut to the chase? Being overly compliant, following rules without thinking, gets more people into trouble than not. It stifles creativity, discourages candor, dampens thinking.

It helps to pause, reflect on the rule or norm, and see if it makes sense in the situation in which you find yourself.

As Douglas MacArthur said, “Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.

Charlie Brown once asked “If you don’t like their rue, whose would you use?

Simple; the ones the make sense, serve a purpose, and advance doing the right thing , even if they’re only your own.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.